Disclaimer: The characters and situations herein do not belong to me. This story is meant solely for entertainment purposes. No infringement is intended. Titlecomes from the Keane song "Bedshaped."
Author's Notes: Exactly one year ago today, I posted my first "Castle" piece, "The Way We Fall." As the fandom grows, we as readers are bombarded with so many terrific options, and for you all to take the time to read my stuff still confounds me, to be honest.
So this is for you, my dear readers. Thank you for every lurk, alert, favorite, recommendation, review and "dear God, does she have any idea what she's doing?" Thank you for letting me have a voice in this operatic choir of Castle fanfiction.
And, of course, massive tacklehugs to my darling M&Ms: Mel and Meg, for every kind word and, equally, for every well-deserved slap upside the head.
The Old Haunt is painted with dark woods and shades of welcome. History is ground in every inch of the place, from the floorboards to the rafters. Though some would say it's just a building, her sentimental side knows it's as much a living and breathing an entity as those who cross the threshold. There is a vibrancy here; a life force she rarely gets to see in her line of work. There is rejuvenation in the polished shine of the brass rail that slides slyly across the length of the bar; affirmation in the halo of amber light that encircles both the liquor bottles and the rare triumphs in her waged wars.
The Old Haunt has seen a lot of her of late, and it's not because of the alcohol. Instead, being ensconced within the familiar, friendly walls underlines the victories and thins out the defeat; it is comfort in an ill-fitting, jagged existence, a rare respite in which she can relax. The opaque paned glass on the door is her filter against the world, barring her demons entrance. Unsolved cases, the favorite black pants she tore chasing down a suspect, the difficult acknowledgment that Josh was the attainable version of her shadow-turned-partner (handsome, good at his job, bit of a bad boy streak) and that said designation was unfair to all three of them cannot follow her here.
Ironically, being among the smoky haze and bustling activity quiets the riot that rages in her heart and clears her foggy head; gives instead of takes – the inverse to all she sees and does in the name of the badge. It reminds her that there is a woman behind that badge; behind the armored shields she dons – the ones issued by the NYPD and the one she's crafted around herself.
Its reprieve from being one of a million to being one in a million is hope sparking an ember that she too can find a second chance, and when she's ready (because somehow in the ashes of the many aftermaths they've seen, it's no longer "if"), she can count on Castle to not only remind her of who she is but who she – they – could be.
Crossing the threshold turns her pain into his poetry; gently urges her forward into accepting that it's okay to look for tomorrows after she spends countless hours recounting other people's yesterdays.
The normalcy she finds here is as heady and intoxicating as the alcohol it serves; the company unquestioned and unsuspicious. There is an innocent sweetness in watching Castle fumble behind the bar, shuffling a martini shaker to the beat of "La Cucaracha"; a giddy release in the lively, comparatively uninhibited banter they throw across carefully handcrafted bar tops and partnerships. (She's almost strong enough to admit she enjoys creating a counterbalance to that by popping a third button on her shirt before reaching for the door handle just to gauge Castle's reaction – and her own, as she cannot ignore the tingling warmth that spreads through her as she watches him gulp and notice tantalizingly bare skin.)
She and the boys have staked out a particular booth in back with as much focus as they do suspects. It treads the line between overt and hidden; lets her choose how much she wants to show and when. She likes the space, with its rickety legs that mimic hers some days, when the wheels of justice stop turning altogether. Its tabletop is worn and warped but still functional, and shows all the living she's done and has yet to see.
(As the Jack and Coke burns away the end of a particularly difficult case, she also likes the booth because of its small size. Feeling Castle next to her, whole and warm and safe, reminds her why she chooses to do what she does.
The fact that during her last several visits Castle's hand has come to rest on her knee, fingers seeking permission to roam dangerously higher, is sometimes all the incentive she needs to extend her mammothly long day by an hour or two.)
But today she's not running from anything; not losing herself among clinking glasses and the ring of an old cash register. She's not sitting at the end of the bar at closing time, watching Castle animatedly recount his latest "heroics" (which have included him simply opening the door of a squad car so she could shove a suspect in) to a bemused, indulgent staff. She's not thoughtfully swirling the last of her bourbon – poured only when the calamity of her existence threatens to completely mute the ethereal whispers of calm she finds within pub walls – listening to Castle sign yet another copy of Heat Wave and pretending she doesn't notice him glance over at her when he politely but firmly tells his fervent fangirls it's last call.
She's not leaning on her elbows against the bar, long legs extended in as open a stance as she'll ever take around him, losing herself in his words for the millionth time as he fine tunes Rook and Heat's next adventure. She's not envisioning this same conversation in his loft or her kitchen, him padding in bare feet to kiss the side of her neck as she pours them coffee.
She's not losing herself in the tumbling acknowledgment that she can no longer fight the tide when it comes to him; the disinclined acceptance that came not in the aftermath of a freezer and a dirty bomb, but on a day extraordinary only in its ordinariness, when they sat in Central Park eating hot dogs – so like that first case, and yet light years away – and she realized that he is her tonal opposite but constant equalizer; the one incomprehensible thing in her life that makes the most sense.
That they'd both walked away at separate times, but somehow ended up in the same place anyway; that something always brings her back to him, and she can't outrun it even if she tried.
That she is ready, if he is willing and able.
Today she reaches for the door not clad in her button down or badge; not tinged in the scent of the streets in the city that never sleeps or the criminals that walk on them while she sprints to catch up. Instead, she's dressed in a little black number that's just this side of dangerous, hair down in natural waves – it's as obviously unruly as she's willing to get right now – and a chunky set of heels that Lanie bought her last year but had yet to be exposed to anything but the back of her closet until today.
But with the corrugated changes that have come in the preceding months, she's realized there is not much left for her to hide. She'd been stripped bare – redefined – and she'd realized she had a choice: run from the apparent irrevocability of it all, thinking herself stronger and more determined, or let it catch up with her.
She has never been one to shy away from a challenge, and despite the scars that still linger beneath the long sleeves of her dress, she's sure as hell not going to start now.
It may not have been her yesterday, but it just might be her today – and she's willing to let it be.
She approaches the door with a half-smile on her face as greeting to the bouncer. With Castle's popularity and the proximity of the bar to multiple college campuses, The Old Haunt is quickly coming to be known as a "must-see" for locals and tourists alike, and there is a sense of pride in that for her; that something so positive and enduring could come out of the original circumstance that brought her here is a better testament to why she does her job so diligently than any praise or commendation could ever be.
Mike looks her up and down and whistles lowly. With a mischievous look in his eye, he motions to the back of the line. "Sorry, miss. While you look like this hot cop I know, even she's not as good looking as you."
"I still have my gun, Mike," she warns with a contradictory wink.
His eyebrows shoot skyward. "Dare I ask where?"
She reaches for the door, a half-chuckle caught in the back of her throat, deepening her voice into an unfamiliar – but not entirely uncomfortable – husky tone. "I wouldn't if I were you."
She hears his laugh behind her as the melodic mayhem of the bar greets her, and turns halfway when he speaks again. "Hey, Detective Beckett? Happy birthday."
The second smile she gives him is the epitome of unreserved (and not even her definition of unreserved, but ordinary people's), and she carries it with her as she shuts the door. It takes a moment for her eyes to adjust inside the bar, even though the muted light of dusk wasn't nearly as harsh as the days that have chased her across the threshold.
It's boisterously loud; tenaciously vivacious. She pauses a moment to let that settle over her, as the last time she'd experienced anything of the sort she and Castle had been undercover, and her focus had been on grabbing the attention of a drug dealer. There is something intoxicating in the idea that, for tonight anyway, there are no masks in place; no liar's life led. That she is writing her story, not baiting the line for those who dare cross the one Lady Justice has drawn in the sand.
Tonight, that line disappears beneath a wave, and she's finally ready to succumb within it.
She sees Lanie and Esposito waving to her from their booth, and she raises a hand in acknowledgment. But still she scans the crowd for Castle, not out of obligation but out of…desire.
There's always a pause when that word is applied to him, though of late it's been scarcely the length of one breath when it had for so long been hours of echoing entreaties for her sanity to return to her – excuses masquerading as reasons why.
He is part of the NYPD brotherhood – part of the team – but more significantly, part of her, and the one thing she's never been able to lie to is her reflection.
She feels a tentative but welcoming hand brush along the small of her back, and she turns toward him, her expression turning slightly shy as he unabashedly looks her up and down. His mouth works overtime trying to form a sentence, and all she can do is laugh. They do things blindingly out of order and yet with an undeniable synchronicity; they met in a crowded bar three years ago, their paths not crossing but instead colliding, defined then by professions that had turned into life's impetus.
Now, for better or worse, distance or proximity, stubbornness or concession, they are part of each other; defined by this permanence in an otherwise ephemeral existence. They both know few things are as stalwart as this partnership – all definitions included, because it's one word that wholly encompasses three more – because even in their breaks, what she once considered cracks in their foundation, just show the inherent strength in the remaining concrete.
They are finally standing on the "will" side of will they/won't they, and she's determined not to let the moment fall into those fissures.
"Hi," she finally offers, and the simple utterance seems to shake him from his stupor.
"You look incredible," he breathes, the words warm on her face as his thumb traces circles on her hip. She's not sure if he's aware that he's doing it, and she thinks that might be why it hypnotizes her so; they are so careful in words and touch that to feel this intimacy they haven't yet proclaimed aloud – that she's only just proclaimed to herself – is more demonstrative than a kiss could ever be.
She smiles and moves her hand to tuck a loose curl behind her ear, but he beats her to it, brushing his index finger down her cheek and then sliding his hand down the length of her arm. It's almost as if he's trying to convince himself that she's there, that she's real – that they are real – but knows he must tread lightly, for she is gasoline and he is combustible.
Her own hand makes a brazen line to rest on his waist, and they both take a subconscious step closer to each other. (Later they will appreciate the sweet symbiosis of that.) "So what," she asks throatily, a muted half-smirk touching her lips when she sees him swallow hard, "do I have to brace myself for with this party you insisted on throwing me?"
He grins, and for the first time since she got ready that evening, she's nervous. He waggles his eyebrows and replies, "Karaoke."
She tilts her head and levels him with her patented for the love of God, Castle look, and his smile shifts to more playful and just a touch bashful. "Nothing, I promise. I just wanted to get you out of your apartment this year."
She lifts one shoulder in a shrug. "There's nothing wrong with pizza and beer on your birthday."
"If you're sharing it with people you care about, no. But by yourself and with a chick flick on in the background? That's a cry for help."
Her rolling eyes are belied by leaning into his touch as he encircles her waist completely, the movement hidden from prying eyes by him pretending to reach over the bar for something. She knows it will not protect her from the boys' ribbing or Lanie dragging her to the bathroom to demand a full explanation, but she appreciates the gesture because of its simplicity; he knows she can take care of herself nine times out of ten, but he's telling her he's up for the challenge the one time she falters.
"First of all, I do not watch 'chick flicks.' And second, how do you know I don't spend it with people who care about me?"
He looks down at her, and they're finally millimeters away from capturing the impossible wind of inevitability between their fingers. But then he straightens, back to their booth, and she knows he sees gratitude in her eyes, because that real first moment – the instant they've been leading up to since the first moment where he wielded his pen and she her badge (oh, the symbiosis of it all) – need only be shared by their relieved hearts and unburdened souls, not prying eyes. After clearing his throat, he says, "Because I wasn't there."
It's the truth and they both know it, but still she slides by him, craning her neck backwards slightly, a teasing lilt to both her voice and expression. "You know what they say about assuming, Castle. Who ever said I cared about you enough for you to warrant an invite?"
She takes two steps before he joins her, hand more firmly and possessively on her back. "That dress does."
She can't argue with that; just smiles and falls into step with him, beating out a rhythm they've set together. When she arrives at their table, she's immediately consumed by the sincere jubilation that rains upon her. Lanie – the voice of reason and despite her occupation, Kate's sometime tether to the land of the living – gives her a big hug and whispers, "We'll talk later, and I'll tase you if you leave anything out."
Ryan and Esposito, her brothers in arms and the trustworthy eyes in the back of her head, also envelop her in familial warmth. It's a rare demonstration of the inherent tacit undercurrent to their relationship; they were people whom she'd trusted first with her professional well-being, and now with her personal life.
Montgomery, the unrecognized guiding hand who has influenced her so much; her father figure when she'd first come to Homicide – when her own father was battling inner demons while she battled everyone else's – has a proud edge to his stance, acknowledging it's possible that one second later, one move right or left, could have resulted in many absences from this celebration of life.
Even Jenny, the newest sheep in their flock, gives her a quick hug and wishes her well. Kate is touched by the fact that she'd be there, not necessarily as her fiancé's date, but again as an unsung member of the team, for with every strong detective on the street, there was an equally strong partner waiting at home.
Surprisingly, it's Martha who holds Kate the longest, and there's a bittersweet touch to the embrace, almost like the redhead knows she's a stand-in for someone who can't be here today. (Beckett will tell her later that she's not; that the greatest role Martha could ever play is giving her back the opportunity to hear motherly words of wisdom.)
And then there's Castle.
(There's always been Castle, she knows, but now she's ready to see it.)
He just grins broadly at her and motions to the banquette seat. She slides among leather cracked with days gone by and tomorrows waiting with bated breath to begin. Castle sits next to her, jabbering a mile a minute to Esposito about the state of the Giants' divisional chances. Martha and Jenny are speaking even faster, the actress's martini threatening to slosh over the sides of her glass. Montgomery is regaling Ryan with stories from his rookie beat days, and the younger man has his head tilted back, laughing uncontrollably.
She has never been happier.
They are no longer colleagues or even a team. They are the perfect puzzle pieces of a family, something she thought she'd lost – and it's the greatest gift they could ever give her.
She looks down into the drink someone apparently ordered her, and takes a breath, not to steady herself but instead revel in the chaotic bustling. It makes her feel alive, and this is what will remind her of that when she's ankle deep in death.
She feels a hand on her knee and looks up at Castle, whose brow is furrowed slightly in concern. She shakes her head imperceptibly, bringing the drink to her lips and he relaxes, leaning against the back of the booth. He angles himself slightly toward her, interjecting as the boys recount the writer's first case with the squad to Jenny. His right hand remains on her leg, and his left rests on the heightened chair rail that runs the length of the corner in which their table sits. He starts to absently play with locks of her hair like it's the most natural thing in the world.
(Maybe it is. Maybe it always was. Maybe it should be.
She doesn't have the answer, and for once goes against her training and instincts to find it at all costs.
Beneath the table, she laces her fingers with Castle's and squeezes; it's thank you for this, thank you for being you, thank you for letting me run but making sure I always had something to come back to in the end all rolled into one.)
As the night wears on, she is flushed not from the strong drinks being sent over to the table, but by the fact that there is absolutely no personal space between her and Castle anymore. Her right leg is wrapped around his left calf, hopelessly entwined like the rest of their existence has been for so long. His hand has moved to the nape of her neck, rubbing gently. There is a flash of a future in the caress, and it would be easy to run from it.
Too bad she's never been one for easy.
The rest of the party starts to peel off in shifts around midnight, and she and Castle are left alone in a dark corner booth and the last vestiges of unresolved sexual tension. He turns to face her fully, hand finding her waist and drawing her ever closer.
He searches her face, but for what, she's not sure. They've always relied on silent communication; have been able to have wordless conversations for longer than she can remember. But in an instance as important as this – when the bridge they've so carefully built can be incinerated by their constant missteps and miscues – she pushes past her heavily fortified defenses and simply asks, "What is it?"
Her wordsmith falters and falls silent for a moment, and there is painful pleasure in knowing that she can unbalance him as quietly and quickly as he does her. She puts her hand on his thigh as an advance not of intent but instead encouragement.
He motions between them. "This…this is happening, right?"
She smiles. "We didn't drink that much, Castle."
Her heart beats double time when he doesn't mimic her expression, and she softens her tone. "This has been happening for a while, don't you think?"
He nods and cups her cheek, eyes flickering to her mouth. "Is this what you want?"
She'd asked herself that a hundred thousand times, but only when streaks of sunshine obliterated her reflection in the mirror. Their road here was not one paved in golden bricks; instead it was forged stone by stone, with each case and each piece of themselves that they shared. There were a few (many) rough patches, when the cobblestone buckled beneath them; tripped them, scarred them, made them bleed.
But they'd stood up, wiped the blood away unnoticed with the palm of their hands (for they feel the weight of all those they cannot save eternally staining their fingers), marching onward into the breach. They had no guide, only determination and each other.
They'd ended up here, not at a crossroads but at the end of a journey that was just as important as the destination.
That this is, unequivocally and just a little bit frighteningly, where she is supposed to be.
She leans closer to him, nodding both to his question and the hard-fought admissions. She brushes her lips against his lightly once, twice, and though it's not as passionate as the scene they'd staged when riding in as the cavalry for the boys, it is far more intimate because it is just them – no cover, no backtracking, no sudden, jarred, swirling movements mimicking a supernova into which they throw all abandon. This is merely one more step down a road of progression they set out on during that very first case; another shade to the picture they've painted together. They will set the pace as necessary; run when it's warranted, backtrack when need be.
There is brief hesitancy in the unknown, but as he rests his forehead against hers, she knows beyond the shadow of a doubt he is the person who is meant to walk beside her as she investigates it. They've seen so much darkness of other people's makings; it's time to explore the lightness that comes from being together.
He runs his thumbs over her cheekbones and leans in again, whispering "Happy birthday."
She smiles against his mouth and replies, "Yes, it is."